Officials starting to crack down on diving

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lapierre.jpgWe can debate night and day about which sport is the toughest and therefore worthy of induction into the Mountain Dew Extreme Hall of Fame, but few would doubt that hockey is in the conversation. Still, there are times when hockey shows some of its ugliest soccer-inspired roots: precisely when a player embellishes a penalty and “dives” to the ice.

It’s one of those moments when a player transforms from “inspiring rags-to-riches person” to an unpublishable word or three. Thankfully, the league is placing greater influence on cracking down on the shameful tactic. Darren Dreger points out the recent increase in diving penalties.

There were no diving penalties called in the first 44 postseason games, yet in the last 10 games, five have been assessed.

Terry Gregson, the NHL’s director of officiating says the league is cracking down. Gregson says embellishment was evident in the first round.

In Game 6 of the Washington Capitals-Montreal Canadiens quarterfinal series, three diving penalties were assessed, including two on Canadiens forward Maxim Lapierre.

Detroit’s Darren Helm was also called for diving in Game 7 versus the Phoenix Coyotes and Pittsburgh’s Ruslan Fedotenko was tagged in the semi-final opener against Montreal.

The two diving calls Lapierre received actually inspired me to bring up the subject for last week’s Pucktales comic. On some sick level, Oscar-worthy acting can be a boon to a team (just look at the impact Dustin Brown’s swan dives can have on the Los Angeles Kings’ success, for instance). Consider me pleased to hear that the league is looking to reduce the shameful act.

Now, if referees would develop the courage to regularly call diving without throwing the other team in the box with a reciprocal penalty, then they would be on to something.

Jets chase Dubnyk during dominant first period

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Tonight’s game against the Winnipeg Jets is do-or-die for the Minnesota Wild. It looks like someone may have forgotten to tell the Wild.

Despite not having Josh Morrissey, Dmitry Kulikov, Toby Enstrom, Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers in Game 5, the Jets are off to roaring start. Through 20 minutes, Winnipeg has a 4-0 lead. They already managed to chase Devan Dubnyk from the Wild’s net, and although the game isn’t over yet, it sure looks like the Jets are heading to the second round.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Dubnyk lasted just 11:59, as he allowed four goals on 10 shots. Alex Stalock entered the game in relief of Minnesota’s starter. He stopped all three shots he faced.

Jacob Trouba opened the scoring just 31 seconds into Game 5:

Bryan Little, Brandon Tanev and Joel Armia also found the back of the net for the Jets.

This is total dominance:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Michal Neuvirth gets Game 5 start for Flyers; Couturier returns to lineup

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With their season on the line on Friday night the Philadelphia Flyers are making a change in goal.

Michal Neuvirth, who has played just 59 minutes of NHL hockey since Feb. 18, will get the Game 5 start in goal when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Neuvirth replaced Brian Elliott in Philadelphia’s Game 4 loss on Wednesday night after Elliott gave up three goals on 17 shots, the second time he was benched in the first four games. The Flyers have already used three goalies in this series with Elliott, Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek all getting playing time. None of them have played well.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

When healthy Neuvirth had the best numbers out of the group during the regular season, but health has been a constant battle for him the past few years.

The other big lineup news for the Flyers on Friday will be the fact that center Sean Couturier will be returning after sitting out Game 4 with a lower body injury. He may not be 100 percent, however, given that he took pregame line rushes on the team’s third line between Scott Laughton and Wayne Simmonds. Valtteri Filppula was skating on the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Among the other changes for the Flyers: Robert Hagg will replace Travis Sanheim on defense, while Dale Weise will play on the fourth-line instead of Oskar Lindblom.

Related: Penguins will not have Patric Hornqvist in Game 5

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Barkov, Karlsson, O’Reilly are 2018 Lady Byng Trophy finalists

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Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, the NHL announced on Friday. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers center certainly has the “high standard of playing ability” part down with a season that saw him lead the team with 78 points and finish tied for third in goals with 27. Barkov played the fifth-most minutes (1,743:32) among NHL forwards and only picked up seven minor penalties. This is the second time he’s been named a finalist in the last three seasons.

The Case for William Karlsson: Karlsson had a monster of a season with 43 goals and 78 points during the Golden Knights’ historic first year. In playing 1,534:47, the 25-year-old forward racked up only 12 PIMs. Should Karlsson win, he would become the first player to win an end-of-season trophy for a team in its inaugural season since Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers won the Byng and Hart Trophy and in 1979-80.

The Case for Ryan O'Reilly: O’Reilly missed one game this season and logged 1,686:10 of ice time for the Sabres. He recorded only one penalty all season, way back on Oct. 24 versus Detroit, a slashing call. His one penalty is the fewest among NHL players who suited up for at least 41 games this season. He’s a previous winner having taken home the trophy in 2014 while a member of the Colorado Avalanche.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Bill Masterton Trophy (Saturday)
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Penguins, Jets, Predators look to advance

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Game 5: Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET (Penguins lead 3-1)
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Call: John Forslund, Pierre McGuire
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Game 5: Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (Jets lead 3-1)
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Call: Dave Randorf, Louis Debrusk
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Game 5: Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET (Predators lead 3-1)
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Call: Kenny Albert, AJ Mleczko, Brian Boucher
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[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]